The chosen hymns for this week, Marilla Ness - Do not be afraid and Be still for the presence of the Lord can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
The Spirit is with you
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 17th May.
Recently the Office of National Statistics brought out a survey that said nearly half the people of Britain, 25 million people, rated their level of anxiety as high.
So the first prayer today is from a prayer book called Together we Pray, and this prayer is inspired by the prophet Elijah, at a time when he was beyond worried. He was just beat. He was all for giving up on life.
Look at me and see me in my darkness.
Hear me and listen to me in my despair.
When my soul is tormented, cast down, restless...
When even faith seems to drift away.
I say, ‘Enough Lord.’
Come to me and meet me here.
Chase away those things that cause me such sorrow.
Lift me out of the darkness and despair of this wilderness.
Speak to me and show me Your way.
Restore Your joy to me that I may serve You.
Over the last few weeks we have been breaking down the last conversation Jesus had with his disciples before he was betrayed.
The background to the writing is this.
John is writing to a church that is struggling to know if it will even survive.
And he writes this Gospel to inspire them.
And it is as if he is saying, ‘I know you are struggling, but don’t give up. We were in a similar positioned and this is how we found hope.
From John 14:15-21
I get worried at times that people try to make the Bible more complex than it needs to be.
Fore instance, this passage in John...
I can imagine myself as a first year theological student in Kings College in Aberdeen, and my Systematic Theology lecturer telling me how this passage is an early example of Trinitarian Theology, that this passage shows us that ‘We come to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.’
Anyone switched off yet?
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against systematic theologians, I have friends that would regard themselves as systematic theologians. Systematic theologians can be nice people. If there are any systematic theologians out there I want to assure you, God loves you.
But systematic theology is not what this passage is about.
Imagine the two scenes that are happening here.
The first is the scene as it takes place.
Jesus is with his disciples in the upper room. He knows Judas is going to betray him. In the next hour or two their world is going to fall apart. This is his last chance to talk to his disciples about anything at all. This is the conversation that they will remember and go through again and again and again over the next few days.
And Jesus says, ‘Over the next few days you are going to go through hell and back. You are going to see me betrayed by a close friend of ours. You are going to see me tortured and crucified. Everything that you believe in will be questioned. This is the thing you need to remember more than anything else just now...Trinitarian theology is really important.’
I don’t think so.
Or decades later, John the disciple is writing to the church and that church is facing persecution and possible extinction. He is trying to write to them a Gospel of hope and encouragement that will get them through this really hard time. And John remembers this conversation, when he was part of the disciples and was facing a time when they thought they would get wiped out, and John writes down this conversation intending to say to his people, ‘As you face this bleak future, this uncertain future, never forget, Trinitarian Theology is important, never forget we come to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.’
I don’t think so.
Jesus wasn’t a lecturer in Systematic Theology he was a rabbi, and his disciples weren’t theology students, they were fishermen and tax collectors.
John wasn’t a lecturer and the people he was writing to weren’t theological students, John was an ex fisherman and the people he was writing to were ordinary people struggling in the world.
We shouldn’t make this more complex than it needs to be.
In fact this passage is very simple.
‘If you love me. you will obey my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever.’
Put really, really simply...
Jesus knows that the disciples are going to go through a really tough time and he says to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, you will not face this alone.’
Decades later John remembers this conversation and he writes the Gospel of hope and says to his church, ‘This is what Jesus said to us when we were struggling, and it was true, so I tell you this truth in the hope that you can believe it and find comfort and encouragement, Yes the world is tough, but you do not face it alone.’
Now that is simple to understand, the hard bit is taking it to heart.
This time of year always reminds me of exams.
For over a decade I would sit exams at this time of year; O Grades, Highers, Six Year Studies, exams for my Applied Microbiology degree, exams for my Bachelor of Divinity Degree; over ten years of harder and harder exams. And the thing about them was that I had to sit them alone. No one else could sit them for me.
I would be in a hall, sitting at a desk, surrounded by people that couldn’t help me, they were all sitting the same exam.
After my last divinity exam I promised I would never sit an exam again, ever.
Years later I would get to May/June and although the weather was getting better and people were coming out of the winter blues I would have this feeling of dread creep up on me. It took me years to work out my body and mind were conditioned to prepare itself for sitting exams under pressure. And even though I wasn’t sitting them the feelings were still there.
If I am stressed I still get the panic dream of sitting in an exam hall and I am looking at a paper and I am looking at the questions and I don’t know the answers.
I have learnt that when that happens I have gotten myself in a place where I am living a lie.
The lie is not that I am facing problems; the lie is that I am facing those problems alone.
God is with me in my life. That is the truth of the matter.
And not only that, God has put other people in my life to help me walk this life in community. That is the truth of the matter.
No matter what I face, I do not face it alone.
That is what I need to believe in, that is the way I need to live my life.
I am not alone, and I do not face the problems of this life alone.
We are living in a time of social isolation.
But that represents a distance on the floor, not the state of our relationships.
We can still talk, we can still help, we can still share.
This passage is not complex, it is very simple; we are not alone.
God is with us, God has put others in our life to be with us.
The difficulty is not understanding this truth;
the difficulty is believing this truth, living this truth.
But that is what we need to do, and we do it by reminding ourselves of it again and again and again.
You are not alone, God is with you, and God has put people in your life to be with you.
Let us pray.
And in our prayer we will have moments of silence where you can give your personal concerns to God
There are so many people that are anxious just now.
Those that are worried about paying bills...
Those that worried about going back to work and how safe it may be...
Those that continue to be worried about their health...
Those that are worried about all the added responsibilities they have...
Remind us that you never ask us to take on the burdens of the world on our own.
Remind us that you called us to share our life with others...in families, in churches, in communities.
Remind us that together we can be stronger.
When you called us to share, it wasn’t just our strengths and possessions that you called us to share, but also our worries and our burdens our weaknesses.
So we give to you now those things that weigh us down...
In all our prayers may we remember this truth, you have never left us alone, and you don’t call us to be alone.
May we remember this and rest in your peace.
Thank you for being with us today, either on the video or on the telephone.
Remember you can ask the church to pray for people you care about through the web page.
Until next time...
A blessing from Together we Pray
Word of Life,
Be still, be glad,
and be at peace.